Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker plans on Wednesday to release an “Urban Agenda,” a series of initiatives centered on education, economic development, affordable housing, incarceration, and public safety and youth violence.
Baker has spent significant time reaching out to voters in urban areas and to people of color in general during a campaign that has taken him to youth development centers in Lowell and Jamaica Plain, churches in Dorchester and Mattapan, and small businesses in Worcester.
Baker lost cities by overwhelming margins in his 2010 campaign against Governor Deval Patrick, but in this race against Democrat Martha Coakley and three independent candidates, he has held “vision sessions” with numerous people of influence from communities of color in Boston, New Bedford, Springfield, and elsewhere throughout the state.
“A lot of what Charlie has come up with is from great feedback from knowledgeable people in our communities, folks who have done this work,” said Robert Lewis Jr., who run The BASE, which mentors black and Latino young people through baseball.
Baker is willing “to go back and forth with folks, and then to put a stake in the ground and say, ‘Hey, this is what folks are going to hold me to,’ ” Lewis said of the 24-point agenda.
Lewis was among those who helped Baker craft his agenda. Others included Richard Taylor, who worked with Baker in former governor William Weld’s administration; former state senator Bill Owens; Nam Pham, executive director of VietAID, a 20-year-old community development agency; and retired US magistrate judge Joyce London Alexander.
“When we sat down to talk about his campaign, he focused a lot on Gateway Cities and urban markets around the state where there is significant double-digit unemployment and significant gaps in communities of color entrepreneurial efforts,” Taylor said Tuesday. “We’ve got to [lower] the unemployment rates in these markets, and that’s going to largely be done by growth and expansion of locally owned businesses.”
Spurring innovation, entrepreneurship, and small-business growth are keys to kickstarting sluggish economies in urban areas, he said. Baker’s plan considers Boston’s efforts to create an “innovation center” in Roxbury’s Dudley Square as a model to be replicated throughout the state.
Innovation centers often take the form of a shared working space for high-tech entrepreneurs and often become incubators for startup companies. Examples exist in Cambridge’s Kendall Square and along Boston’s waterfront, but there has been a push in Boston to move innovators and investors into neighborhoods.
There is an added benefit to growing small businesses in communities where large numbers of young men have been cut out of the job market because of criminal records. It could boost employment because local business owners often hire local residents with whom they have a more personal relationship, Taylor said.
“If you have a young man who has come out of prison who has paid his . . . dues and you see that person — you may even know that family — you are going to be a lot less concerned about a [criminal] record because of something that was insignificant,” he said. “But because of the way our . . . system works, it’s still a stain on their record.’’
On the subject of criminal justice, Baker’s plan also calls for appointing a Department of Correction commissioner and parole board chairman “who share the goal of preparing the incarcerated to return to our communities with an education, job training, and marketable employment skills.”
Their focus, according to Baker’s plan, would be less on building prisons and more on reducing recidivism. There will also be a push to find alternatives to jail for nonviolent drug offenders and pursue substance-abuse programs.
According to the Patrick administration, the state will need to spend up to $2.3 billion on 10,000 new prison beds if serious reforms are not enacted in sentencing, in prerelease programs to reduce recidivism, and in treatment, rather than incarceration, of addictions.
In the area of education, the agenda calls for lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state, hiring more teachers of color statewide, and revamping career and vocational schools in urban areas.
On affordable housing, it says: “Housing that’s affordable for working families and young people is an important component of thriving communities.” The plan supports developing state-owned land near transit hubs into market-rate housing and turning affordable rental units into affordable home ownership.
Lewis, who worked as an executive at the Boston Foundation before establishing his organization, called the bullet points that make up Baker’s plan commitments to solving problems. In a city with a plethora of academics and nonprofit organizations, there is no shortage of ideas about how to improve life for residents, but Lewis said there seems to be a lack of problem-solving.
“We have some of the most brilliant people in the world talking about education, and they haven’t figured it out,” he said. “We’ve grown the nonprofit sector by leaps and bounds, and we still have Blue Hill Avenue, which is 2.5 miles where we still have underperforming schools, violence, shootings.”
Beacon Street, he said, does not have the same issues.